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Archive for February, 2009

And now a cautionary tale about why you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Back in the 1990s, the European band Noor Shimaal put out an album of North African music. In Arabic, “noor” means “light” and “shimaal” means “north” so roughly translated “noor shimaal”  is “northern light”. My friend, Zara Noor (Terri Massa), thought “Noor Shimaal” would be a great name for the Alaskan Middle Eastern (belly dance) troupe she was part of. And thereby hangs a tale. But let’s let Terri tell you the rest of the story:

“Years ago some online music reporter stumbled across my website and read that I was a founding member of the dance troupe Noor Shimaal in Fairbanks, Alaska.  This genius then managed to confuse the dance troupe Noor Shimaal with the music group Noor Shimaal (not based in Fairbanks) and wrote an article that proclaimed me the founder of the internationally known Middle Eastern music ensemble.  The article liberally reference the information from my website.  (Apparently, I’ve also worked with many world-famous musicians which definitely was not on my website).  I contacted the company that ran the music news website, but they never corrected it.  Now that erroneous piece of information has been copied and recopied over the last decade and has made it as far as Asia [look at the biography on the left hand side]. Almost all the way back to Alaska.

I am famous.  Just not for anything that I’ve actually done.”

For the record, while Terri has in fact founded two Middle Eastern dance troupes, she has never founded an international Middle Eastern music ensemble. Check out her website here. She has never worked with famous musicians like George Abdo and Hossam Ramzy although she wishes she had.

The music group, Noor Shimaal, has a great CD called “Where Africa Meets the Orient” (buy it here) which I highly recommend.  They have no connection to Alaska or Terri–something a simple check of the album cover would have revealed. Just to make it interesting, however, Amel Tafsout, formerly a member of the band Noor Shimaal, is currently living in the Pacific Northwest. As Terri puts it, “she’s tracking me down.”

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Winter time, not just sick time, tends to be my television watching time. Not having tuned in for awhile, I was shocked at some of the changes that have taken place in Telly World.

For starters, since when is every other show on the tube a knockoff of either “Law and Order” or “CSI”? I mean, c’mon, I know a successful show tends to spawn imitators, but out-and-out clones–that’s just wrong. I’d demand Sam Waterson investigate, but I’m afraid he’d have to recuse himself from the case. 🙂

So, you ask, what oasises have I discovered in the vast wasteland that is network television these days?

Good Watching

Chuck: I admit that I was so put off by the goofy idea behind this show–computer geek winds up with national security database in his head, plays spy, hilarity ensues–that I completely refused to watch the first season. After actually sitting through an episode, however, I was hooked. Think “Get Smart” but with heart, wit, action, and pop culture references.

Bones: Another crime show? About a bunch of forensic scientists and the FBI agent who has to work with them? Get outta here. But no, this is a show that really works. The mysteries are generally solid, but the real key to the show’s success are the relationships between the characters and the chemistry between the cast members. You can really believe that these folks are highly intelligent, quirky types who work together at the same lab.

NCIS: The acronym stands for “Navy Crime Scene Investigation” and the storyline revolves around the taciturn agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his motley crew of miscreants who solve crimes involving Navy/Marine personnel. A limited focus, well-defined characters, and excellent chemistry among the cast make this show stand out from the other “CSI” clones. My favorite character: Abby, the goth forensic scientist.

Desperate Housewives: Successful conversion to digital TV means that I can finally watch the ABC shows on Channel 2, traditionally the weak sister channel in town. I have to say that this show lives up to its hype. My favorite characters: the uptight Bree and the self-centered Gabby.

Crusoe: Another show with a lame premise that turned out to be surprisingly good. Like the title suggests, the story revolves around Robinson Crusoe and alternates between his struggle to survive on the island with his loyal companion, Friday, and flashbacks to his life in England and the conspiracy that eventually lead to him being stranded on the island. The core of the story is really about the bond of friendship between him and Friday who is an interesting person in his own right. Unfortunately, rumor has it that the series has been cancelled after its initial thirteen episode run.  A darned shame.

Two and a Half Men: The ongoing saga of the dysfunctional Harper brothers is probably the best half-hour comedy show currently on TV.  Briefly, Charlie (Charlie Sheen) is a womanizing drunkard who’s carefree bachelor existence is disrupted when his divorced, tightly wound brother Alan (Jon Cryer) and nephew Jake move in with him. This hackneyed “Odd Couple” premise is elevated by the writing which regularly walks the line between comedy and pathos with aplomb.

The Jury’s Still Out

The Mentalist: A show with an intriguing lead character that is repeatedly lamed by bad writing.  Just when I am ready to give up on it, however, the show redeems itself by saying something thoughtful and intelligent.  So, just what are they toking up in the writers’ room? I don’t know, but I do know that Simon Baker’s charisma can’t carry this series forever. The mysteries need to be better plotted, the other characters more well-rounded, and Patrick Jane’s opposite number, Teresa Lisbon, needs to butt heads–and win–with him more often.

Dollhouse: As a Joss Whedon fan, I eagerly awaited this new series from the master, but was disappointed by its debut. Eliza Dushku is an excellent actress, but while the initial episode was solid, I couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters. I plan on watching the next episode to give it a fair chance, but the series really needs to kick it up a notch if they want to hook me as a regular.

Ghost Whisperer: I’m a sucker for dead people with issues to resolve which is why I find this show compelling, but seriously what is going on with this whole Dan’s spirit-is-in-another-body storyline? Either get Dan out of there or let him move on to the next world already. And will someone please feed Jennifer Love Hewitt? The girl’s a stick.

Get the Hook

Flashpoint: Okay, I’ve sat through a couple of episodes now and frankly I fail to see how sending a heavily armed, paramilitary hit squad into a tense situation can do anything but lead to tragedy. If a SWAT team like this burst into my house without warning, the lead (or at least the silverware) would definitely fly.

CSI: Miami: Points to David Caruso (Lt. Horatio Gates) for giving his old-man-in-charge character some depth and watchability with no help from the scriptwriters. Otherwise, this is a very forgettable show about crimes committed in tropical areas and investigated by beautiful people (male and female) who are completely unbelieveable as forensic scientists and uninteresting to boot.

CSI: New York: The real mystery here is why fine actors like Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakarides are being wasted in a so-so crime drama. There’s some attempt to individuate the characters in the cast, but the attempt falls short. Bottom line: if I don’t care about the continuing characters, I’m not going to tune back in.

Medium: I’ve given this show a chance and really, “Ghost Whisperer”, is better.

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*Insert Imperial March theme music here*

The University of Arnor, thanks to its penny-wise, pound-foolish fiscal policy, contracts out its custodial services to the lowest possible bidder.  The end result, apart from spotty cleaning, is that we are occasionally treated to bizarre episodes like the following ….

*Insert Star Wars Opening fanfare here*

Last week, in a library far, far away, staffers on the upper floors became incensed when they discovered that the custodial personnel were deliberately removing their office door steps. The reason for this wholesale theft of small, rubber wedgies?   Fire safety. Apparently, the custodians were told that propped open office doors constituted a fire hazard and that only their constant vigilance could save the library staff from their reckless pursuit of air circulation.

The library staff pointed out with some heat (no pun intended) that overflowing trash cans and propped open emergency doors, both of which can be laid at the feet of the cleaning crew, were far more likely to cause fires than a bunch of door stops. Balance was finally restored to the Force when it was clarified that ONLY the emergency doors (metal doors with magnetic strips on top that automatically close off the levels in case of fire) should not be propped open.

Now that it was safe to let our wedgies roam free,  library staffers happily returned to their merry, door-stoppering ways.

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joker-oscar-poster

Fan-made Oscar poster by JoshMC.

The more I watch the “Dark Knight”, the more impressed I am. This not simply a good Batman movie or even a superlative Heath Ledger vehicle–it is a new classic. And it’s a shame that it has been shut out of contention for “Best Picture”.

“Batman: The Dark Knight” is, at its heart, a thoughtful, noir crime drama cleverly disguised as an action thriller and decorated with a couple of superhero costumes. There can be no doubt that the movie showcases one of late Heath Ledger’s best performances and he richly deserves his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  I’ve seen Heath in other roles and, while he was a good, solid actor, he definitely reached new heights in this film.

Heath’s compelling portrayal of the Joker, however, owes as much to Jonathan Nolan’s gritty, complex script and Chris Nolan’s tight direction as it does to Heath’s talent and chops as an actor. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a movie so tightly plotted with no wasted scenes since the first “Die Hard” movie.

Each time I watch the “Dark Knight”, I see new layers to the story. In the first “Batman” movie, Michael Keaton described his title character by saying that any of us, if we had enough money and enough anger, could be Bruce Wayne. What the “Dark Knight” tells us is that any of us if we had enough anger, a pile of explosives and the will to use them, could be the Joker.

Gotham is a corrupt place where people can’t trust the cops or the government and even a “white knight” like Harvey Dent comes out looking tarnished. I get the strong impression from Dent that he’s fighting crime, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the politically popular thing to do. If he had more to gain by taking bribes, one can’t help but think he’d be the greasiest pol in Gotham.

Everyman Jim Gordon (Gary Oldham) fights crime from within the system, but his attempts to restore law and order are constantly undermined by his own associates–the crooked cops who are really working for Maroni and, in the end, Dent himself. Batman’s one-man-crusade against the mob seems admirable, but by working outside the law, he finds himself inspiring not the rule of law, but amateur vigilantism–the precursor to mob violence. As for the mobsters themselves, money and the people it can buy give them their power. The public good plays second fiddle to their self-centered greed.

Against this backdrop, is the Joker (or for that matter, Ras’ al-Ghoul) really wrong to want to blow the whole city up and start over? If the game is rigged from the start, why abide by the rules?  Is the Joker actually creating anarchy or is he simply striking a blow for all the disenfranchised citizens of Gotham?

Only a truly great movie can raise haunting questions like these in my opinion.

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Re: Diseased Thoughts

So I just spent the past week lying on the sofa suffering through the worst sinus infection known to man and, as a result, watched way, way too much daytime television. Commercials included. After seeing the trailer for “Friday the 13th, Part 23” again for the fiftieth time, I had to wonder: is a hockey-masked, machete-wielding killer really a bad guy if he’s just improving the gene pool by taking out the stupid people that might otherwise reproduce? I mean, if hormonal young people haven’t figured out by now that Camp Crystal Lake is a bad place to make out at, they just have themselves to blame for their gory demise. When will Jason be recognized as the public servant he really is?

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